Sibling relations in Protestant middle-class Ulster families, c.1850-1900

  • Shannon Devlin

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Sibling relationships are navigated and negotiated by individuals over a lifetime. Using more than 4,300 individual letters, eighty wills, and seven diaries, this thesis explores siblinghood in twenty-three sibling sets from eight Ulster Protestant families over the second half of the nineteenth century. Few individuals grew up in the nineteenth century without siblings, meaning that these relationships played a more influential role in everyday life than previously recognised. This thesis mines family correspondence from a sibling perspective and uses additional sources such as newspapers, censuses, testamentary, medical, and political records to trace the lived experiences of Ulster Protestant middle-class families.

Sibling relations, intergenerational relationships, and complex kin networks influenced family decision making, strategy, and social trajectory. This thesis explores siblinghood from several thematic perspectives, including household formation, sibling experience of inheritance, schooling and business enterprise, participation in civic, associational, and philanthropic societies, roles in courtship and marriage, and migration. It traces the influence of gender, age, and birth order on family finances, partnerships, marriage, and social connections. Shared experiences of childhood established reciprocal relationships that provided a space for Victorian gender boundaries, stereotypes, and middle-class social mores to be tested and overcome. This thesis argues that sibling relationships were built on both implicit and explicit foundations of familial love, trust, obligation, and loyalty and remained instrumental in kin networks throughout the life cycle.
Date of AwardJul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorElaine Farrell (Supervisor) & Leonie Hannan (Supervisor)


  • Ulster
  • sibling relations
  • nineteenth century
  • middle classes

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